I recently interviewed Gene Klein, 87-year old holocaust survivor, born in Czechoslovakia in 1928. In our interview as he vividly recounted the horrors of the experience, the only time he became emotional and tearful was when he was consumed with gratitude and recollected small acts of kindness – a guard who gave him portions of food, inmates who gave him hope, or a German engineer who protected him briefly from hard labor.
Kindness can be one of the most powerful and enduring gestures we can make to others. I’ll never forget feeling lost and alone at summer camp and a young counselor invited me to sit on his bunk and read Jaws with him. I’m certain that wherever he is in the world, he has no recollection of it. But I do.
Kindness is a hard-wired part of the human identity. Researcher Dr. Michael Tomasello, who studies human behavior, demonstrated that infants and toddlers instinctively show concern and compassion for those in need or distress. In their study, they took 56 two-year-olds and broke them into three groups. All groups witnessed an adult drop an object, and struggle to pick it up.
One group of toddlers was allowed to intervene and try to help the adult. Toddlers in another group were held back from helping by their parents. The third group watched as another adult stepped in to help. The group that showed the highest distress and concern was the group that was restrained and not permitted to help. Over ninety percent of those toddlers who were permitted to help, attempted to.
Another thing: kindness is contagious. It turns out both positive and negative behaviors are contagious. Bullying begets bullying. Teasing begets teasing. But Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have been studying community behaviors and found that positive prosocial behaviors spread much more rapidly than negative behaviors.
Not only that, researcher David Buss studied 10,000 people in 37 countries to figure out the most powerful attractor for those looking for a mate. Money? Yes, somewhat. Beauty? Yes, it matters – more to men than women. Intelligence? Yes, right up there at #2.
But the #1 characteristic desired around the world when looking for a long-term relationship was kindness and compassion to others. Reach out. Practice kindness every day. It will make you and everyone around you happier and healthier.
Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building powerful human and digital learning experiences based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.
Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.